Shell Announces Oil from Algae

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Shell Announces Oil from Algae

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Oilgae.com, Oil from Algae!

www.oilgae.com

``Oilgae: Oil & Biodiesel from Algae

While a number of bio-feedstock are currently being experimented for biodiesel production, algae have emerged as one of the most promising sources for biodiesel production, for two main reasons:

(1) The yields of oil from algae are orders of magnitude higher than those for traditional oilseeds, and

(2) Algae can grow in places away from the farmlands & forests, thus minimizing the damages caused to the eco- and food chain systems.

Though research into algae oil as a source for biodiesel is not new, the current oil crises and fast depleting fossil oil reserves have made it more imperative for organizations and countries to invest more time and efforts into research on suitable renewable feedstock such as algae ...

While algae are one of the more promising feedstock owing to their widespread availability and higher oil yields, it is felt that there are not enough web resources that provide comprehensive information on biodiesel production from algae. Oilgae.com ( www.oilgae.com ) intends to fill this gap, and aims to be a one-stop resource for information and web links for biodiesel production from algae ...

This web site hopes to be a small catalyst that assists with such inputs and analyses for those pursuing efforts in this area. We would hence be most grateful if visitors could provide us their feedback on what additional inputs they would wish to have on algae-based biodiesel ...

algOS: We are seriously exploring an Open Source movement for biodiesel from production algae; if you are a biodiesel enthusiast, perhaps you'd like to join algOS, the open source movement for oil from algae.

See also:

www.bdpedia.com

BdPedia.com, The Biodiesel WWW Encyclopedia

Oilgae.com is a product of eSource India & Sourcing India''

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JOINT PRESS RELEASE from Shell Oil and HR Biopetroleum, 12-11-07, by WEBWIRE

www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=54866

``Shell and HR Biopetroleum build facility to grow algae for biofuel

Royal Dutch Shell plc [limited liability company] and HR Biopetroleum today announced the construction of a pilot facility in Hawaii to grow marine algae and produce vegetable oil for conversion into biofuel.

The announcement is a further step in Shell's ongoing effort to develop a new generation of biofuels using sustainable, non-food raw materials. Algae hold great promise because they grow very rapidly, are rich in vegetable oil and can be cultivated in ponds of seawater, minimising the use of fertile land and fresh water.

Shell and HR Biopetroleum have formed a joint venture company, called Cellana, to develop this project, with Shell taking the majority share. Construction of the demonstration facility on the Kona coast of Hawaii Island will begin immediately. The site, leased from the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA), is near existing commercial algae enterprises, primarily serving the pharmaceutical and nutrition industries.

The facility will grow only non-modified, marine microalgae species in open-air ponds using proprietary technology. Algae strains used will be indigenous to Hawaii or approved by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Protection of the local environment and marine ecosystem has been central to facility design. Once the algae are harvested, the vegetable oil will be extracted. The facility's small production volumes will be used for testing.

An academic research programme will support the project, screening natural microalgae species to determine which ones produce the highest yields and the most vegetable oil. The programme will include scientists from the Universities of Hawaii, Southern Mississippi and Dalhousie, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

An advantage of algae is their rapid growth. They can double their mass several times a day and produce at least 15 times more oil per hectare than alternatives such as rape, palm soya or jatropha. Moreover, facilities can be built on coastal land unsuitable for conventional agriculture. Over the long term, algae cultivation facilities also have the potential to absorb or `capture' waste CO2 directly from industrial facilities such as power plants. The Cellana demonstration will use bottled CO2 to explore this potential.

"Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small CO2 footprint," said Graeme Sweeney, Shell Executive Vice President Future Fuels and CO2. "This demonstration will be an important test of the technology and, critically, of commercial viability".

"HR Biopetroleum's proven technology provides a solid platform for commercial development and potential deployment worldwide," Mark Huntley, HR Biopetroleum Chief Science Officer said. "Shell's expertise and commitment to next generation biofuels complements our own strengths, and makes this a truly collaborative partnership."

Royal Dutch Shell plc is incorporated in England and Wales, has its headquarters in The Hague and is listed on the London, Amsterdam and New York stock exchanges. Shell companies have operations in more than 130 countries, with businesses including: oil and gas exploration; production and marketing of liquefied natural gas and gas to liquids; marketing and shipping of oil products and chemicals; and renewable energy projects including wind, solar and biofuels.

www.shell.com/aboutshell

HR Biopetroleum Inc., incorporated in the State of Delaware and headquartered in the State of Hawaii, is a developer of large-scale microalgae production technology. It was founded by a group of leading marine scientists and is dedicated to the development of commercially viable and socially responsible biofuel production technology. The company constructs and operates algae biofuels plants that use effluent gases from power plants to produce renewable fuels and to mitigate emissions of carbon.''

www.HRbiopetroleum.com

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Commentator 1 wrote:

``GreenFuel's president Dr. Isaac Berzin ... offers the following data on the possibility of attaining hints of US self-sufficiency in liquid fuels:

To replace all transportation fuels in the US, we would need roughly 140 billion gallons of biodiesel. With a 50% market penetration of hybrid drivetrains and other improvements, this could be reduced to 100 billion gallons, worth a quarter trillion$ at the pump at 2006 prices. This won't happen now, but could at least be phased-in - so as to offset continuing growth in drivers.

To produce the larger amount of biodiesel by growing soybeans would require almost 3 billion acres of prime farm land, or over 1 billion acres growing canola (rapeseed), at nominal yields of 48 and 127 gallons oil per acre, respectively - and cost twice as much as the comparative value of petrol. This is impossible to do that anyway, and still provide food crops at a reasonable prices. Plus it is basically immoral - as long as people are hungry in Africa.

To produce that same amount of biodiesel by growing algae on flooded desert would require a land mass of roughly 9.5 million acres (almost 15,000 square miles, far less than the largest county in Alaska). To put this number in perspective, consider that the Sonora desert in the southwestern US comprises eight times more land - 120,000 square miles.

Algae are now producing 15,000 gallons per acre for the dozen startup companies and small farmers working on this strategy. Greater production is possible with engineered algae (yes, the dreaded green goo!)

450 million acres are currently used for crop farming in the US, and over 500 million acres are used as grazing land for farm animals, so the requirements for fuel are relatively trivial.

As has been shown by many, it is not possible nor desireable to grow enough corn for ethanol to meet our fuel needs, but using lipids extracted from algae, not requiring distillation, for a substantial proportion of fuel - this is possible. Arguably - even now, the incredible ramp-up to ethanol in the Mid-West - that unsung phenomenon has already been partially responsible for moderating the previous rapid rise in gasoline prices.

Corn crops convert only about one percent of available sunlight to energy while algae can convert up to 60% and do it on land otherwise unusable for anything other than armadillos. Not that there's anything wrong with armadillos.

At least the desert is usable if we can "back-up" the ... Rio Grande river -- probably be cheaper than a big fence anyway.

And if we can phase-in the home production and use of HOOH to boost biodiesel - we can and should avoid not only an energy crisis but higher prices - at least to about this time in 2012 ...

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Commentator 1 also wrote:

Talk about "hybrid vigor" and the evolution of the family farm...

Utah State University in association with a company called Andigen, Inc. has developed a hybrid diary and algae production system into a integrated facility which farmers can buy and install today. They are doing this already.

Perhaps, if the numbers pan-out, farmers should be encouraged to do so in greater numbers, by advantageous legislation and subsidized loans. If a fair percentage of farmers converted over to this system, it could make a substantial dent in oil imports by substituting renewables.

www.usu.edu/greats/research_academics/pond_scum.cfm

www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2007/11/23/news/state/35-poopower.txt

With cattle or other livestock, less land is needed for growing feed, and some of the grazing land is converted to ponds, where there is a 10-1 advantage (or more) in output per acre for algae, compared to crops. Unlike dedicated algoil production, the strains are optimized for food. Biomass tonnage in ponds supplied with CO2 can double twice per day! in the summer months, but only once or twice per week with no added CO2.

The main input is solar, but the efficiency of using algae, with hot water and CO2 is proved to increase the photon conversion rate from the meager 1-2% rate (for normal crops like corn) to over 20% -which is actually more on average than solar cells, but at a small fraction of the cost per acre of solar cells.

Here is how it is done: and it begins with the "end". Manure waste from the stock is anaerobically digested in a large closed tank to produce methane, which is fed to a bank of diesel generators (2-4) for generating electric power to a local grid.

Liquid effluent from the digester, and CO2 and waste heat from the small power plant, are then used to grow the algae. This disposes of the CO2, phosphates, and nitrogenous waste. The algae is then used to provide feed for the livestock, which produce meat or dairy products, as well as some algoil, which can be burned in the same high efficiency diesel engines, or sold.

This of course involves a (monumental) shift, in both attitude and geometry - away from centralized power grid economics (and their political power, which must be nullified). There will still be large grid plants for urban areas only.

A Dairy farm integrated with an algae farm and small power plant, produces milk, methane, electric power, animal feed, fertilizer, and biomass feedstock for pellets and/or biofuels. It also eliminates most of the bad odors from these farms.

If the plug-in electric automobile is perfected, then electricity will be the main product, aside from food. If not, biofuel can be produced. The economics favor full electric output however, since CO2 is the limiting input for the algae pond.

In the eyes of many far-sighted observers ... this hybrid system of integrating farming, algae production for both food and fuel, and electricity production -- along with manure and effluent disposal, is going to position this kind of advanced farm-factory as the savior or the "American way" (defined as ecologically-sound self-sufficiency).

OK -- cynics must ask: Isn't this scenario more "hybrid hype" - or is it really hybrid vigor? Well one thing for sure, it is beyond the drawing board and guessing stage, and being implemented into farms as we speak, so actual comparative figures will be available soon.

There are 3 million farms in the USA and 50,000 are large enough to make this kind of hybrid facility worthwhile. The optimum size of electrical power plant is based on multiples of the largest mass-produced diesel engine which is about 500 kW. Four of these would provide power for 1000 neighbors on a local grid, so that if this kind of system were fully optimized, one-sixth to one-eighth of the population could be supplied with renewable electrical energy as a byproduct of food production ...

Pig and chicken farming are also possible candidates for renewable fuel being derived as an almost-free side effect of food production; but the total biomethane potential is probably limited to no more than 10% of net usage of natural gas in the USA. Every little bit helps.

As it turns out, over one fifth of all the cattle in the USA reside in central California (cheese-heads from Wisconsin must be slackers). I had thought the cow population would be uniform from state to state, but apparently it is not. The San Joaquin Valley of CA has some of the nation's most polluted air and most productive land, and almost 2 million cows. Maybe all that is inter-related. A biomethane algoil and hybrid farm industry in this state is an ideal solution for both renewable fuel and air quality.

The biomethane from 8.5 million cows could produce enough electrical power for either about a million homes yearly, or a million cars if used as vehicle fuel. The energy requirements are close to the same for the average car or home, except in the more northern states - but having an integrated system of fuel and food makes a lot of sense. Not to mention: air quality ...

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Commentator 2 wrote:

I don't know about North America, but where I came from - the UK -- everyone, domestic and industrial -- used coal gas.

Commentator 1 wrote:

This is also done in the USA but to a lesser extent. A major grid powerplant in Tampa, Florida, converts coal to syn-gas on a very large scale. This process does not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere until the gas is utilized as fuel for gas turbine electric generators and then the exhaust is as clean as natural gas.

... which, as you say, will not please everyone. But the green movement needs a big dose of reality therapy, on occasion.

Of course the same process can be taken a step further, to produce methanol on a large scale. Not only are the emissions of this syn-gas plant on Florida well below regulatory limits - it is one of the cleanest coal-based power plants in the world - since the sulfur content of the coal is easily removed and then used as raw material for fertilizer - that is WIN-WIN folks.

In Kingsport, Tennessee, a plant participating in the Department of Energy's Clean Coal Technology Program combines both processes, for clean mass production of methanol from coal at under $0.50 a gallon.

However, that price is well below most estimates I have seen for new coal-to-methanol facilities. But it indicates that all this scheme requires - is "political willpower" (and the cooperation of the green movement). That is why it is surprising that it is a non-issue so far in the USA.

Biomass and Ag waste and sawdust can be converted to syn-gas by a similar process (partial oxidation) which is later converted to methanol. In fact the original name "wood alcohol" derives from the sawdust conversion method.

Commentator 3 has often mentioned his work on a manure to syn-gas plant, which would be very cost effective today, even if ten years ago it was marginal.

The U.S. DoE estimates 2.45 billion tons a year of biomass Ag and municipal waste are available for alternative fuel production, counting saw dust. One ton can be converted to 185 gallons of methanol, so that about 500 billion gallons and at $2 gallon ...

... whoa... could that be correct? A trillion $$ economic bonanza to the American farmer and small businessman (hopefully we can keep most of big oil OUT of this party), instead of arming our enemies!

Move over Saudi thugs ... the American entrepreneur is about ready to eat your lunch...

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Commentator 1 also wrote:

Almost all of us agree about the food-loss repercussions and inadvisability of using corn-based ethanol as a substitute fuel. OK lets try to go beyond that. The site below gives NREL estimates of the biomass resource available for U.S. biofuels production ...

The resources in question include specifically the sum of: crop residue, forage crops (straw) grown on marginal farmland, forest residue (no clear cutting) and mill sawdust, and an estimated one-half of the municipal solid waste (from metropolitan areas, where it is easily collectible). This is the basis of the NREL estimate. This comes to 2.45 billion metric tons per year, totally renewable.

One ton of this type of feedstock can be converted to 186 gallons of methanol. Actually this is conservative, as higher figures have been published. By converting cellulose directly to methanol, rather than fermenting to ethanol (or using termites), there is a huge bottom line advantage in most of the processes, since the manufacturer then avoids the large loss and parasitic problem of distillation. In the partial combustion process, the methanol comes out undiluted.

As a renewable resource, then - biomass represents a potentially inexhaustible feedstock supply for methanol production = 455 billion gallons per year in the USA. The total US consumption of gasoline is about 140 billion gallons and with diesel if comes to 190 billion gallons of transportation fuel. It will take about 1.4 gallons of methanol to substitute for every gallon of gasoline/diesel due to the oxygenation, which gives lower net energy but it burns much cleaner. This means that about 230 billion gallons of methanol would be enough.

www.tpub.com/content/altfuels10/methanol/methanol0001.htm

Since the USA produces about 40% of its needs for transportation fuel from domestic crude oil, this country should be able to easily make the remainder 60% from biomass to blend with that and become not only self-sufficient but a net exporter.

With political willpower we could do this in a decade. It is not the ideal solution but it can buy valuable time for LENR [Low Energy Nuclear Reaction] or ZPE [Zero Point Energy] conversion to be perfected. It also has the huge advantage of getting the USA independent of the Arabs who hate us, and OPEC.

Perhaps we can even export enough to China to pay for all the toxic food and health products they are shipping to us ? ... and with a little left over to send to our friends in Europe in exchange for fine German automobiles and ...

Commentator 4 wrote:

I'm heavily against the corn ethanol "boondoggle". Cellulosic ethanol is something else again ... This is exciting news from Technology Review

www.technologyreview.com/Energy/19745/

In the local campaign to get our Government not to commission a new incinerator for our area, my favoured alternative technology is the Compact Power pyrolysis/gasification system

www.compactpower.co.uk/

which is pretty similar to the "Renugas" plant mentioned in the link. I quite like the idea of creating methanol instead and will pass on details of this alternative system to contacts in our Government. A condition that we would like to see is a commitment that it would only be the residual waste stream, after all practical recyclables and reusable's are taken out of it, that gets used for fuel ...

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Commentator 5 wrote:

A week ago I would have said that it is a reasonable speculation that many agencies and companies (e.g USGS on the North Slope, Japan National Oil Co. (JNOC), JAPEX, and Uchida working in the Mallik gas field in the Mackenzie delta) are working on tapping undersea clatherates, and some on subsoil methade hydrates, but no (commercial quality) successes have been published to my knowlege, so I saw no special reason to expect any advancements soon. [The Canadian (MacKenzie Field) gas is known to be at least 6 TCF {Trillion Cubic Feet}.]

However, my jaw about dropped off last week when (on CSPAN2) during an Alaska State Senate committee hearing on (selecting) gas pipeline routes the potential and expected development of methane hydrate harvesting was used a justification (by Mark Meyers, the director of the Oil and Gas division, State of Ak) for investing in a very large gas pipeline to Valdez, as well as a major gas liquifaction and shipping plant.

It was suggested that, due to methane hydrates, the true gas produciton will be many many times larger than the Prudhoe Bay reserves. Methinks somebody knows something the public does not! (Not much out on the fringe side with *that* speculation, eh?) ...

Congress allocated $49M in 2000 to study hydrate development in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. That money is about to run out, so Alaska is asking for $70M more.

It is estimated that there are 100 TCF of hydrates under Prudhoe Bay alone - and they lie on top of the oil and gas production zones, but under the permafrost. If gas pressure is dropped in the production zone, and hot water injected into the hydrate zone, the hydrates will (hopefully) release gas into the production zone (from which they migrated in the first place) and it will be produced.

The method of reducing pressure in production zones located below hydrates in order to get gas out of the hydrates (they spontaneously boil off methane at atmospheric pressure) has been in use for more than 40 years at the Messoyakha field in Russia.

The Prudhoe bay production zones can provide 20 years worth of gas supplies, and with the production of the (overlying) extra 100 TCF maybe another 40 years worth. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is probably over 30,000 TCF of gas hydrates onshore and offshore in Alaska alone. Similar amounts in Northern Canada would not be surprising. If we could use the hydrates to produce hydrogen gas for energy, and carbon fiber for building materials, we would have achieved something good for the environment I expect.

The main problem is that clatherate boiloff may not be stopped in vulnerable areas, like the hydrate glacier off Vancouver, or shallow sub-permafrost areas. The only thing likely to save us is out of our control ... namely sudden changes in the ocean currents bringing on a glacial age.

BTW, just like excessive wildfires and extreme storms are an early indicator of severe global warming, disappearing ships will be an early warning sign of major clathrate meltings. When the clathrate's crystaline structure breaks down small methane gas bubbles are released. As these bubbles rise they expand. The bouyancy of water filled with these bubbles drops.

A ship moving across a major clatherate meltdown would be like a ship going over Niagra Falls. It would sink through the bubbles as if its weight suddenly increased several fold. There are not many ships in the extreme lattitudes, but, as the polar ice cap recedes, northern routes may become more common, and disappearing ships then will too. This clatherate bouyancy problem applies to submarines as well, in fact more so because they would be sucked into the bubble zone, but we are not as likely to hear about them.

Commentator 5 wrote:

I wrote: "The main problem is that clatherate boiloff may not be stopped in vulnerable areas, like the hydrate glacier off Vancouver, or shallow sub-permafrost areas. The only thing likely to save us is out of our control ... namely sudden changes in the ocean currents bringing on a glacial age."

That should have been written more clearly as: "The main problem is that clatherate boiloff may not be stopped in vulnerable areas, like the hydrate glacier off Vancouver, or shallow sub-permafrost areas. If that happens, the only thing likely to save us is out of our control ... namely sudden changes in the ocean currents bringing on a glacial age."

Commentator 1 wrote:

Yes. If the statistical projections of rising CO2 continue to hold over the next few years, and nothing new comes on the "alternative-energy" scene, capable of reversing the trend -- then at some high level, perhaps the UN, they might have to actually consider altering the Gulf Stream in order to "Re-Freeze" the Siberian Permaforst which is apparently the largest methane repository. Even now, wooly mammoths have started thawing out from the time period when all those gigatons of methane got frozen into place.''

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The Permian Extinction

www.cosmicpenguin.com/911

Here's another article, with some references, by British journalist George Monbiot.

www.monbiot.com/archives/2003/07/01/shadow-of-extinction/

Subsequent articles can be found at:

www.monbiot.com/archives/category/climate-change/

FEATURE ARTICLE from The Guardian, 7-1-03, By George Monbiot.

``Only six degrees separate our world from the cataclysmic end of an ancient era

It is old news, I admit. Two hundred and fifty-one million years old, to be precise. But the story of what happened then, which has now been told for the first time, demands our urgent attention. Its implications are more profound than anything taking place in Iraq, or Washington, or even (and I am sorry to burst your bubble) Wimbledon. Unless we understand what happened, and act upon that intelligence, pre-history may very soon repeat itself, not as tragedy, but as catastrophe.

The events which brought the Permian period (between 286 and 251 million years ago) to an end could not be clearly determined until the mapping of the key geological sequences had been completed. Until recently, palaeontologists had assumed that the changes which took place then were gradual and piecemeal. But three years ago a precise date for the end of the period was established, which enabled geologists to draw direct comparisons between the rocks laid down at that time in different parts of the world.

Having done so, they made a shattering discovery. In China, South Africa, Australia, Greenland, Russia and Spitsbergen, the rocks record an almost identical sequence of events, taking place not gradually, but almost instantaneously. They show that a cataclysm caused by natural processes almost brought life on earth to an end. They also suggest that a set of human activities which threatens to replicate those processes could exert the same effect, within the lifetimes of some of those who are on earth today.

As the professor of palaeontology Michael Benton records in his new book, "When Life Nearly Died," the marine sediments deposited at the end of the Permian period record two sudden changes.

The first is that the red or green or grey rock laid down in the presence of oxygen is suddenly replaced by black muds of the kind deposited when oxygen is absent. At the same time, an instant shift in the ratio of the isotopes (alternative forms) of carbon within the rocks suggests a spectacular change in the concentration of atmospheric gases.

On land, another dramatic transition has been dated to precisely the same time. In Russia and South Africa, gently deposited mudstones and limestones suddenly give way to massive dumps of pebbles and boulders. But the geological changes are minor by comparison to what happened to the animals and plants.

The Permian was one of the most biologically diverse periods in the earth's history. Herbivorous reptiles the size of rhinos were hunted through forests of tree ferns and flowering trees by sabre-toothed predators. At sea, massive coral reefs accumulated, among which lived great sharks, fish of all kinds and hundreds of species of shelly creatures.

Then suddenly there is almost nothing. The fossil record very nearly stops dead. The reefs die instantly, and do not reappear on earth for ten million years. All the large and medium-sized sharks disappear, most of the shelly species, and even the great majority of the toughest and most numerous organisms in the sea, the plankton. Among many classes of marine animals, the only survivors were those adapted to the near-absence of oxygen.

On land, the shift was even more severe. Plant life was almost eliminated from the earth's surface. The four-footed animals, the category to which humans belong, were nearly exterminated: so far only two fossil reptile species have been found anywhere on earth which survived the end of the Permian. The world's surface came to be dominated by just one of these, an animal a bit like a pig. It became ubiquitous because nothing else was left to compete with it or to prey upon it.

Altogether, Benton shows, some 90% of the earth's species appear to have been wiped out: this represents by the far the gravest of the mass extinctions. The world's "productivity" (the total mass of biological matter) collapsed.

Ecosystems recovered very slowly. No coral reefs have been found anywhere on earth in the rocks laid down over the following 10 million years. One hundred and fifty million years elapsed before the world once again became as biodiverse as it appears to have been in the Permian.

So what happened? Some scientists have argued that the mass extinction was caused by a meteorite. But the evidence they put forward has been undermined by further studies. There is a more persuasive case for a different explanation.

For many years, geologists have been aware that at some point during or after the Permian there was a series of gigantic volcanic eruptions in Siberia. The lava was dated properly for the first time in the early 1990s. We now know that the principal explosions took place 251 million years ago, precisely at the point at which life was almost extinguished.

The volcanoes produced two gases: sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide. The sulphur and other effusions caused acid rain, but would have bled from the atmosphere quite quickly. The carbon dioxide, on the other hand, would have persisted. By enhancing the greenhouse effect, it appears to have warmed the world sufficiently to have destabilised the superconcentrated frozen gas called methane hydrate, [clatherates] locked in sediments around the polar seas. The release of methane into the atmosphere explains the sudden shift in carbon isotopes.

Methane is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The result of its release was runaway global warming: a rise in temperature led to changes which raised the temperature further, and so on. The warming appears, alongside the acid rain, to have killed the plants. Starvation then killed the animals.

Global warming also seems to explain the geological changes. If the temperature of the surface waters near the poles increases, the circulation of marine currents slows down, which means that the ocean floor is deprived of oxygen. As the plants on land died, their roots would cease to hold together the soil and loose rock, with the result that erosion rates would have greatly increased.

So how much warming took place? A sharp change in the ratio of the isotopes of oxygen permits us to reply with some precision: six degrees centigrade. Benton does not make the obvious point, but another author, the climate change specialist Mark Lynas, does.

Six degrees is the upper estimate produced by the UN's scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for global warming by 2100. A conference of some of the world's leading atmospheric scientists in Berlin last month concluded that the IPCC's model may have underestimated the problem: the upper limit, they now suggest, should range between 7 and 10 degrees. Neither model takes into account the possibility of a partial melting of the methane hydrate still present in vast quantities around the fringes of the polar seas.

Suddenly, the events of a quarter of a billion years ago begin to look very topical indeed. One of the possible endings of the human story has already been told. Our principal political effort must now be to ensure that it does not become set in stone.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. Michael J. Benton, 2003. When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time. Thames and Hudson, London.

2. Press Release issued by Mark Lynas, 17th June 2003. "New Evidence Warns of Global Warming `Catastrophe' this Century".

3. Eg Robert Watson, chairman IPCC, 20th November 2000. Report to the Sixth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993798

4. Fred Pearce, 4th June 2003. Global Warming's Sooty Smokescreen Revealed. New Scientist.''

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www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8TJD0Q00.htm

ARTICLE from The Associated Press, 12-17-07, By HENRY C. JACKSON

``U.S. corn boom has downside for Gulf

JEFFERSON, IOWA -- Because of rising demand for ethanol, American farmers are growing more corn than at any time since the Depression. And sea life in the Gulf of Mexico is paying the price.

The nation's corn crop is fertilized with millions of pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizer. And when that nitrogen runs off fields in Corn Belt states, it makes its way to the Mississippi River and eventually pours into the Gulf, where it contributes to a growing "dead zone" -- a 7,900-square-mile patch so depleted of oxygen that fish, crabs and shrimp suffocate.

The dead zone was discovered in 1985 and has grown fairly steadily since then, forcing fishermen to venture farther and farther out to sea to find their catch. For decades, fertilizer has been considered the prime cause of the lifeless spot.

With demand for corn booming, some researchers fear the dead zone will expand rapidly, with devastating consequences.

"We might be coming close to a tipping point," said Matt Rota, director of the water resources program for the New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group. "The ecosystem might change or collapse as opposed to being just impacted."

Environmentalists had hoped to cut nitrogen runoff by encouraging farmers to apply less fertilizer and establish buffers along waterways. But the demand for the corn-based fuel additive ethanol has driven up the price for the crop, which is selling for about $4 per bushel, up from a little more than $2 in 2002.

That enticed American farmers -- mostly in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota -- to plant more than 93 million acres of corn in 2007, the most since 1933. They substituted corn for other crops, or made use of land not previously in cultivation.

Corn is more "leaky" than crops such as soybean and alfalfa -- that is, it absorbs less nitrogen per acre. The prime reasons are the drainage systems used in corn fields and the timing of when the fertilizer is applied ...

Soil erosion, sewage and industrial pollution also contribute to the dead zone, but fertilizer is believed to be the chief factor.

Fertilizer causes explosive growth of algae, which then dies and sinks to the bottom, where it sucks up oxygen as it decays. This creates a deep layer of oxygen-depleted ocean where creatures either escape or die.

Bottom-dwelling species such as crabs and oysters are most at risk, said Michelle Perez, an analyst with the Washington-based Environmental Working Group. "They struggle to survive," Perez said. "They can't swim away."

Crabbers complained at a meeting in Louisiana earlier this year that they pulled up bucket upon bucket of dead crabs.

Rota warned that if the corn boom continues, the Gulf of Mexico could see an "ecological regime change." The fear is that the zone will grow so big that most sea life won't be able to escape it, leading to an even bigger die-off ...''

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www.sciencenews.org/articles/20071222/bob10.asp

ARTICLE from Science News, Vol. 172, No. 25/26, Dec. 22, 2007, p. 395, by Sarah C. Williams

``Experts worry about lack of progress in efforts to reduce lifeless zone in the Gulf of Mexico

The water that tumbles out of the Mississippi River into the salty Gulf of Mexico has traveled thousands of miles. From its source in Minnesota, the river winds through 10 states on its journey to the ocean, collecting runoff from the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, and everywhere in between. The river flows through the fields of the Corn Belt, gathering fertilizer, and through cities, where sewage leaches into its currents.

By the time the Mississippi empties into the Gulf, along the shores of Louisiana, it carries more than just water. Nutrients from both agricultural and urban runoff convert the river's outflow into a rich broth. Every summer in the Gulf, this enriched water encourages algae to grow in massive quantities, using up the oxygen that fish and other marine species need to survive. The result of this process: an area the size of Massachusetts that supports almost no life beyond algae and bacteria.

This 7,900-square-mile seasonal dead zone has been around since the 1970s, when scientists first began taking notice of the fish-depleted area. Now the Gulf of Mexico dead zone is the largest such zone in the United States and one of the largest in the world. In the summer of 2007, the dead zone covered the third-largest area since scientists started measuring it in the 1980s ...

Much of the runoff that causes the dead zone comes from cornfields. And an increasing demand for corn, used to make ethanol, could mean more runoff, and a worsening of the habitat destruction in the Gulf ...

That focus, over the past decade, was largely on monitoring and minimizing the nitrogen that runs into the Mississippi from fertilizer. Spread on fields, synthetic nitrogen fertilizers spur crop growth. But when they wash off the fields into water, fertilizers help algae bloom.

The 2000 report identified fertilizer, and specifically nitrogen, as the primary cause of the Gulf dead zone. But there's another nutrient that algae require: phosphorus. Only within the past few years, scientists say, has it become clear that phosphorus should be included in efforts to reduce nutrient runoff into the Mississippi.

Don Scavia of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor recently created a model to study the interplay between phosphorus and nitrogen in the dead zone. His simulation, published Dec. 1 in Environmental Science & Technology, showed that a dead zone can switch from being limited in size by how much nitrogen flows into it to being limited by its phosphorus content. He hypothesizes that such a switch is happening right now in the Gulf.

"Over the past 30 to 40 years," he says, "we've added so much nitrogen to the system that there's plenty of it around, and phosphorus is becoming limiting."

This doesn't mean that all efforts to monitor and control the dead zone should switch to phosphorus, he says, but that policy makers need to take both nitrogen and phosphorus into account. In many cases, the steps to control the nutrients are the same. About 75 percent of nitrogen and around 60 percent of phosphorus in the runoff comes from fertilizer, with the rest leaking into the rivers from urban sources.

Scavia says that controlling phosphorus alone probably would not alleviate the dead zone, and might even make it worse. Reducing phosphorus, he says, would clear up algal blooms close to the shore. This would allow nitrogen-laden water to flow farther out into the Gulf, where phosphorus exists naturally. Here, the vastness of the Gulf and the mixture of nitrogen and phosphorus would allow for an even larger dead zone than the coastal area permits.

"This has actually happened in the Neuse River in North Carolina and in the Pearl River in Hong Kong, where they controlled phosphorus and it made the problem move downstream and become worse," says Scavia.

While controlling only phosphorus would worsen the problem, controlling only nitrogen would be equally detrimental to the dead zone. Phosphorus, it turns out, is harder to get rid of than nitrogen once it's in the ocean.

When algae and other phytoplankton die, their phosphorus- and nitrogen-rich corpses sink to the bottom of the ocean. Much of the nitrogen is removed from the water by microbes that convert nitrogen compounds, like nitrate and nitrite, into nitrogen gas which makes its way up through the water and into the atmosphere. Phosphorus, however, accumulates in the sediments and water column, feeding future algae growth.

This means that high levels of phosphorus can lead to problems that remain long after phosphorus and nitrogen runoff is controlled. This struggle is playing out in the Baltic Sea right now, in an out-of-control dead zone.

"You've gotten into a vicious cycle," Boesch says. "The system there is so overloaded with phosphorus that there are tens of years of phosphorus available."

In addition to now being fingered for limiting the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, phosphorus has long been described as the limiting factor in freshwater systems, such as the Mississippi River itself. In rivers, cyanobacteria that get energy through photosynthesis, like plants, thrive. These bacteria process nitrogen from the atmosphere into the kind of nitrogen that feeds algal growth. Limiting phosphorus in these situations will improve not only the dead zone but the health of the Mississippi and the rivers that empty into it.

Most researchers agree that reducing both nitrogen and phosphorus is what needs to happen to shrink the dead zone.

"A lot of the management steps you would take to go after nitrogen would help with phosphorus too," points out Robert Howarth of Cornell University. "It's not like it's twice as much work to go after both."

These management steps include limiting fertilizer use on fields and requiring buffer zones and wetlands between agricultural fields and rivers, to catch nutrients. These steps have been suggested before, in the 2000 dead-zone assessment, but policy makers have not yet provided the money needed to put them into practice.

In a recent book, Scavia and colleagues reported on recently surveyed Iowa farmers who were asked whether they'd be willing to implement such changes.

"They would be happy, in fact they would prefer, to have a more diverse landscape with wetlands and conservation buffers," he says. "They would do that if the government would pay them to do that rather than pay them to grow corn. As long as money is coming through."

But right now, the most money comes from growing corn. Scientists worry that a recent increase in corn production to support the ethanol industry will soon be reflected in the size of the dead zone.

Corn, says Scavia, is grown in soil with tile drains. More nitrogen seeps into the river from cornfields than from fields growing other crops.

"Corn is really the leaky crop that causes most of the nitrogen problems in the Gulf," Scavia says. And this year, farmers grew 14 million more acres of corn than ever before. A report on the impact of biofuel production on U.S. water quality issued by the National Research Council raises concerns that this increase will lead to more nitrogen flowing down the Mississippi as well as to numerous other water-quality problems.

In an upcoming paper, Howarth and colleagues estimate that the conversion of soybean fields to cornfields to support the biofuel industry will mean an extra 117 million kilograms of nitrogen entering rivers across the country. Many of these rivers flow into the Mississippi. This 37 percent increase in nitrogen runoff, scientists hypothesize, will lead to an increase in the size of the Gulf's dead zone ...''

Commentator 6 wrote:

``Methanol and oil from algae are probably our way out of the Kazakh War of 2020, just a little more than 12 years from now. The greed of the owners of oil wells, if we don't do something about it, will plunge us into a destruction that will make the sub-prime crisis look like a Sunday-school picnic. Also, push now for commuter rail so we have so way to get around when the Straits of Hormuz are blocked and every pipeline in the Middle East is blown up.''

See oilgae7

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[Nymex oil futures peaked at an intraday high of $78.40 on July 14 [2006] but averaged $66.25 for the year, compared with $56.70 in 2005 and $41.47 in 2004 ...

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, 10-17-07, by John Wilen, Associated Press

``NEW YORK -- Oil futures rallied to a new intraday record above $88 a barrel on Tuesday [10-16-07] amid concerns about disruptions to Middle Eastern crude supplies ... Traders are concerned that a Turkish incursion into Iraq in search of Kurdish rebels could disrupt crude supplies from northern Iraq ...

Light, sweet crude for November delivery rose $1.48 to settle at a record $87.61 a barrel. Earlier, prices rose as high as $88.20, a trading record ...''

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, 10-19-07,

by John Wilen, Associated Press

``NEW YORK -- Oil prices surpassed $90 a barrel for the first time Thursday [10-18-07] ... Light, sweet crude for November delivery hit $90.02 ... Thursday was the fifth day in a row crude prices have set new records ...''

{The Oil Gang goes laughing to the bank.}]

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